A.H.B. – a short story

The side of his wrinkled hand became ink-stained from working the newspaper crossword puzzle. It was one of a few he had left in the scratched and weather-worn leather messenger bag that lay across the table. The buckles were undone, and a shiny, silver plate engraved with A.H.B. reflected afternoon light across the small coffee shop. It reminded him of the first time he saw the sun peeking behind the earth in a burst of glory. The moment when he knew he’d found his calling.

He ran a hand across his ghost-white hair. Cruel that. Any time traveling science fiction story he’d ever read described the protagonist as a young man–able to enjoy the future or the past with verve and vigor. That wasn’t his story, though. Each day aged him a month, and there was no doctor, or scientist to remedy it.

He nudged the cold and greasy ham and cheese croissant to the side, not up to the task of eating food that would make him feel terrible later. Yet, the man liked this coffee shop. He could observe humanity over his waning days while pretending to read. He’d given up trying to figure out how to return home, having neither the hardware or the intellect sufficient for the task. The only thing left was to relax and enjoy his accelerated ride into dust, into a future in which he didn’t belong.

Even one hundred years ahead, the environment was not all that unfamiliar. They still had little shops filled with people eager to get coffee: busy business folks, chatty college students, mothers with children who clung to them.

And some stared at him.

One young woman, in particular, was there almost every day sitting at a table in the corner. Her nose in a novel, eyes drifting from the text to him and back again. Were he visibly younger he might have thought she was flirting. But rational thought told him she was a keen observer, quite like him. She must have noticed the strange man who appeared to age right in front of her eyes.

A shrill, piercing scream filled the shop as a child had lost his patience with the scene and went into a full-on tantrum. The man took a sip of cold black coffee and a pen from his bag. He slid the paper napkin from underneath the cup and wrote.

With all of our technological advancement, touching the farthest stars, time travel still eludes us.

He was lost in thought when the sweet and pungent smell of perfume roused him. The woman who watched was now standing next to him. A tear streamed down her face and landed on the messenger bag presented in her outstretched hands. The bag looked like his, but was brittle with age, except for the shiny buckle stamped with A.H.B. She placed it on the table and reached inside, retrieving a napkin laminated in thick glossy plastic. On it were the words he had just written.